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Monthly Archives: March 2013

Hobo Shotgun

It may well be that this was the most entertaining film I have seen in quite a while. Not good, no, God forbid, but fun all the same. Rutger Hauer (dude, where have you been?!) as a homeless guy comes into a town where things are wrong, violence everywhere, police and crime indistinguishable, killing a sport, or at least a casual pastime  He happens to team up with a pretty hooker, and together they take it on themselves to clean up both Sodom and Gomorrah. Equipped they are, as you would expect, with a gun, and – less expected – a lawnmower.

Everything is way over the top: the violence, the villains, the ice skating, the “demons” (well crafted from scrap metal), the “glory hole”, the John-Carpenter-like music, the script.  The latter so much so that this has been the first film in years where I checked IMDB’s “memorable quotes” section to revisit some of these gems:

I’m gonna sleep in your bloody carcasses tonight!  

When life gives you razor blades, you make a baseball bat… with razor blades.

  • Hobo: Put the knife away, kid… or I’ll use it to cut welfare checks from your rotten skin!  
  • Slick: Well you better cut one to Mother Theresa, so you can give it to her while she’s finger-banging you in Hell!  

  • It’s a beautiful day for a skate-rape!

  • You look so hot, I just want to cut off my dick and rub it against your titties!  

  • I have to wash this guy’s ass off my face.

  • And my favourite, a newspaper headline: “Parents Smile as Bodies Pile!”

And it  must be the coolest heroine ever who, in times of greatest danger, running out of time to save her friend, that girl starts a casual welding session to manufacture some advanced weaponry…

Four out of five hilarious lawnmowers! Instant classic!


After the stunningly terrible “Sinister”, I finally understand that the future of horror is not in overbudgeted US productions, but … anywhere else, really. Over the last months I came across quite a few interesting French horror and thriller movies, and when Griff of 3guys1movie suggested I check out “Ils” for properly done creepy kids, I did not hesitate. After all, Griff also hated Sinister, and Ils is French, what can go wrong?

And there is nothing wrong about it, really: “Ils” has everything you would expect from such a film: nice and handsome couple (promises sex scene early in the film, to show their affection), house way off from its neighbours (promises screams for help being in vain), dark attic with plastic covers hanging all over (promises hand camera chase through the maze with the odd bad guy suddenly standing in front of some ill-fated hero), and a not necessary but also “why not”-touch of Eastern European flavour, being set in Romania (promising either excessive violence, or vampires). So when things start going wrong and noises start around and inside the house, there is that sinister (…) feeling that this will be a half-happy ending at best.

The film plays it solid, without twists and turns, plays the creeps and jumps the way it should, and gave me more than one moment of nail-biting when the chase started around the house. I was grateful for that, because recently, these films did not really achieve that.

That does not mean it’s great. While my nerves played along with the script, my brain was a bit bored. “Ils” does not have the subtext or the ambition of “Martyr”, it does not go the gore path of “Frontiers”, it is straightforward in what it makes us expect and what it delivers. After having seen a couple of these over the last months. I think the last horror film of sorts that I found genuinely “good” (however to apply that term) must have been “Eden Lake”, and that was a while ago. Maybe “The Descent” before that. “Martyr” counts as an honourable mention. I think I need to shift my attention… just found this nice list of forthcoming Thai horror movies, including mention of some interesting backlist  by the respective directors. “In The Shadow of The Naga”, “Bangkok Loco”, “Art of the Devil”,… all sounds a bit more refreshing than “Pretty couple chased down by some bad guys and never finds the light switch”. But let’s see…

Journey West

Where to begin? Sigh… The Chinese media (i.e. the government) is occasionally surprised as to the why Chinese big movie productions fail to make a smash at international box offices. This film is maybe the perfect example to illustrate why that is. It is massively popular in mainland China, on its way to become the highest grossing domestic film ever. It takes a classic tale of heroes and adventure, mystical creatures and humour. It uses some of the countries’ most popular actors, with Stephen Chow as an experienced director and certainly (I’m guessing here) all the technical talent that could be found. The result is, to say it frankly, an embarrassing mess. Let’s take this ecxlusively from a foreign observers’ perspective, and you may come to the conclusion that the humour to be akin to the 1970s Louis de Funes or Bud Spencer/Terence Hill films (rolling eyes, fat suits, sexual innuendo jokes). The cgi looks as if made on a shoestring budget, especially weird in the opening sequence that is supposed to set the tone for the rest of the film. Is that tone supposed to be one of spoof hero quest? That fish demon certainly was produced by Beijing Nr 171 middle school film working group, right? That feeling is manifested in the other big cgi sequences, with pigs, tigers, apes all quite obviously beyond the capacities of the cgi teams (particularly problematic just a few weeks after a Chinese director showed how to do tigers, and with great success in China, too).( On a side note, why did the first international reviews all seem to be quite content with the FX quality (Hollywood Reporter or Variety)? That is even weirder than the effects themselves… ) .The “love story” is as if taken out of a barbie doll cartoon (and I learned that it does not exist in the novel… guys, maybe there is a reason for that?), the wigs are awful, but not in a good way, the … the … the …

Let’s turn it around, what did I like? While I still have not read the book (shame on me, but I have not read Ulysses and Gilgamesh either, so here we go, life’s short), it seems to be an interesting allegory. As the film stops after the book’s first act, I have no way of telling whether it will be a substantial and profound allegory, but an allegory about something it clearly is. It is historic mystic material, so no reason to complain about some of the plot devices or story resolutions (Buddha is actually a stone giant and then a galactic pressure cooker? I hope that was not in the book…). The Monkey King is a fascinating character, maybe the only one featured so far who is not just thick or meaningless. It’s no surprise that this king-demon has such a large presence in Chinese story-telling and keeps popping up on every corner. It is played while not subtly but convincingly by Huang Bo, whom I have seen quite a lot despite generally shying away from modern Chinese blockbuster cinema.

Now my question: if you have a slightly silly and old-fashioned book of materials like that, and you are tasked with making yet another film out of it, why would you not approach the task by identifying what’s interesting today and how to find a new approach. I could imagine a lot of different approaches, including one focusing on the fate of these demons who were (justified or not) doomed to an existence as evil creatures, usually after falling out with Buddha over some jealousy-induced love-craze. Just listening to Sun, the Monkey King, telling about his 500-year-long ordeal makes me think that there is something more interesting hidden here than can be shown by smashing a mountain or air-balleting with computer-generated swords. But I guess it comes down to: the way this film has been made, it becomes the blockbuster success it needs to become. The Chinese audience appreciates what we might call old-fashioned and very much non-subtle slapstick humour, does not mind the rubbish effects and pours into 3D screenings as if this was something other than… ah, don’t get me started.

This is not just not my piece of cake, it is not the piece of cake of a lot of Western audiences. I think the word to use is “mature”: given that we have seen this style of “humour” all around the global cinema over the last 60 years, I assume once audiences have seen enough of the same clumsy  stuff, they want to advance to more subtle story-telling and acting. Judging not just from “Journey”, but also from that terrible terrible and even more old-fashioned film it will probably soon push off the box office throne (“Lost in Thailand”), it will take another while to match the Chinese audiences mainstream taste with a taste that can be sold abroad.

Shu Qi as Duan looks nice, though. And the scene  where she uses some movement copy charm to learn some tricks from her erotic tutor (who looks nicer) was funny, I admit.

The Bay

The surprise came at the end, when the name of the director showed up. Barry Levinson? The Rain Man, Wag the Dog Barry Levinson? Is making found footage horror flics? Ok… it does explain, however, why this film about a spreding infection in small town Something Or Other Bay is without doubt rising way above the recent explorations into a genre that is, or should be, dead on its feet. Well, it still is, but twitching. “The Bay” is professionally filmed and edited, it looks like a proper movie by somebody who has the skills to handle a camera and move about the actors. The plot is still what you’d expect: odd signs of people getting infected, the search for the cause, the spreading of the disease and then the mayhem. There is the straightforward story line with the tv crew running around trying to get footage, and then there is the other, more original one, with a doctor from Maryland hospital trying to communicate with CDC and Homeland Security in order to make them help him and his town. What I liked most about the film was how these scenes were written. There is a lot of “Yes, that’s correct” and “No, Sir” involved, trying to put a professional blanket over a pile of squirming worms (isopods, in fact, whatever that is, it has legs and teeth). Utterly help- and clueless, but in proper style… Why they decided to end the film they way they did is their secret, I did not find that terribly compelling The overall framing device of the girl reporting telling the story in retrospect was also kind of unnecessary, only brought out her acting deficiencies. I kept waiting for this device to have some function in the end, some effective twist or turn that made it necessary for the poor girl to look into a wobbly skype camera all the time (didn’t I read they have broadband in the US? Maybe in other places…), but none came. Solid and gory in places, a bit worn out in others, no waste of time, no gain of insight into the future of horror either…

Keyframe republication of Scott Smith’s seminal book, The Film 100, in other words: 100 short portraits of 100 outstanding film individuals:

via Reintroducing The Film 100 – Keyframe – Explore the world of film..


Ok, I understand… not only do I have some catching up to do with respect to Korean police procedural (Bong’athon), but I also have completely missed out on the Johnny To phenomenon. Another marathon… sigh! But it seems it’s worth it. “Vengeance” features Johnny Hallyday, who is usually a quirky French singer with a worn-out face. Here he plays a French restaurant-owner with a history and a bullet in his head. That matters only insofar as towards the end of the film, he starts forgetting quite vital things. It does not really affect the plot, because by hiring a bunch of triad killers, he seeks vengeance for the death of his daughter’s family. Why they were killed also does not matter. A lot of things do not matter, actually, what matters is the way To puts the chase into scene, with some memorable scenes: a chase sequence down a fire escape, the discovery of one the hired guns’ uncle in his Macao shed, several showdowns between several key protagonists. I never fell in love with the Hong Kong action cinema, but watching “Vengeance” I started to wonder why. Maybe To is of a generation to have emancipated (a little bit at least) from the perennial slow motion gun fights and excessive bullet impacts making bad guys fly in flocks across restaurant kitchens. It’s there, but confined, and that’s a good thing. The cast is brilliant, with Hallyday stumbling through Macao and Hong Kong not understanding anything about the culture or the language, depending on the worst possible people. These helping hands are also not just side characters, but written and played as strong and decisive individuals who have their own ethos and their own demons. Still a Hong Kong action film, but one that allows itself through silent moments with beach lunches, beautiful cinematography and mature acting to be taken seriously.

Memories of Murder

Let’s continue my Bong Joon-ho mini-marathon. Murders happen, pretty girls get abused and slaughtered, the village police is overwhelmed with the task of finding the murderer. And it happens again, and again. They capture suspects, they torture them a little bit, they get a couple of confessions, but new evidence keeps showing up indicating that they got it wrong. The quest becomes a nightmare, getting at the police force, turning the public against them.

This is Zodiac, Korean village style, with a police officer at the heart of the investigation who does not have the means his American counterpart would have (actually, they even have to send evidence to the US, as DNA analysis in Korea’s late 1980’s had not been advanced enough), and who is not heroic enough to serve as a centerpiece of a crime thriller. That’s because “Memories of Murder” is not a crime thriller. It is more a tableau of small-town Korea, and even when big things happen, everything stays small. It’s a more humane version of what an American film would look like. People are caught in their hierarchies, in their social contexts, in their need to please the boss, the media, the neighbours or the restaurant owner. They do not shy away from violence in a way that is unpleasant to watch when it comes from the good cops, and in this it is also a depiction of the social system these people live in in pre-democractic Korea. Politics play in the background, with police forces unavailable because they have to smother a workers’ demonstration in a neighbouring city, big changes behind the horizon that do not yet affect local life.

Bong focuses, I learn in part three of my Bong-athon on people, not on events. The way he can set free a rubber monster on Seoul, or a mass murderer on this small town, provides him with the plot he needs to drive his characters through the film. What he is interested in, however, is not the monster or the murderer, he likes the people populating the scene, the good ones and the bad ones.


Damn, why was this film sitting on my shelf for such a long time? I know, because I started watching it, and really hated the titular character, an over-protective mother of a rather dumb boy who gets entangled in some police shenanigans  They have an odd relationship to say the least, verging on the uncomfortable, sleeping together, allowing the bad cops to make all kinds of rude jokes about what else is happening in that household (and I can’t blame them). The boy gets too close to a girl after one night of drinking away his sorrows, and she ends up dead. Did he kill her? We don’t know, but we assume that he did not, and that he becomes part of a crime story that is way over his slightly dumb ahead. The mother goes at great lengths to protect him, she follows up and investigates, while the police are satisfied to have found the perfect murder suspect.

This is all in an early setting. What makes this Bong Joon-ho film more than one of the odd Korean cop flics is that it fluctuates between oddball comedy, with dumb cops and dumber suspects, the mother character who is dedicated to not give way, and the fabulous visuals of Bong and his DP Hong Kyung-pyo. When you have settled in comedic feeling, you will be thrown back with queasy scenes showing the desperation and solitude of the protagonists. When you think you have reached the point of hardball police procedural, you will get some slapstick thrown into your face. I remember that the same feeling of a director completely uninterested in categories and genres was what I loved about “The Host”. Is this Bong’s specialty? I am very motivated to check out his other movies now…


I am writing this 15 minutes into the film: I am very worried that given the style of production, category of actors, country of production and tone and themes set at the beginning, there will not be any surprises coming up in this movie… Can this all really be that obvious and ordinary???

Correction, I got it all wrong. And they wanted me to get it wrong. But what they gave me instead was … terrible. This must be the most contrived script ever, going first one way, then deciding to go another way, and then we learn what the real story is and that’s it. I cannot start to understand how they got Ethan Hawke to play along with this, maybe they slipped him a fake script, but then again, if they had a real script, why did they not use it? There is not a single moment where I was convinced by what was going on: either I saw age-old genre conventions (why do they never turn on the light when they go up the attic, or the dark study where things are happening…??), or poor acting (those children… that police officer… that wife…). There are exactly three redeming features: 1) the music by Christopher Young, which is eery and atmospheric… only it does not fit to the conventional style the film showcases mostly. 2) the end credits, which have been nicely crafted following the “Seven” model, 3) the fate of our hero and his family at the end, which was indeed surprising, but only as an isolated event, in the context of the film it was just weird and actually off. And what happens after we see what’s happening to them is… maybe the most embarassing bit of film-ending I have seen in a while (note: make list of stupid film endings!)

A really really strange film, and not in a good way, a patchwork of deficiencies.

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